Highlighting widespread public concerns about the linking of Aadhaar with the electoral rolls, because of reports of the proliferation of fake Aadhaar in several states, EAS Sarma, former secretary to the government of India, reiterated that the election commission of India (ECI) should address each concern he has expressed and place its detailed point-wise response in the public domain. The former secretary also called for an independent forensic audit of the whole gamut of the Aadhaar system commissioned by the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG).
"Mr Bhaskar's article, based on the government's replies in the Parliament and other authentic information, shows that there are at least nine states today in which the number of Aadhaar numbers exceeds the projected population of the states. This number was seven in February 2020. States, where the number of Aadhaar exceeds the population, may further increase in the coming days on the eve of the 2024 elections. These facts are fully known to the government but no action has yet been taken, raising questions about its intent," he says.
In the article, Mr Bhaskar showed that between 31 December 2021 and 28 February 2023, in almost all the states, excluding Andaman and Nicobar (A&N), Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, there has been a suspicious surge in the number of Aadhaar. "The average surge at the all-India level is 2.7%, with nine states showing surge rates in excess of that. In Meghalaya, the surge in Aadhaar has been as high as 24.5% and 9.3% in Assam."
"Twenty states had registered a swell in Aadhaar registrations within a 15-month period from 31 December 2022 and 28 February 2023. What is worrisome is that many of these states are alongside international land borders. The highest surges have taken place in North Eastern states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. That does call for a major investigation," Mr Bhaskar wrote in his article.
Ms Sarma, the former secretary, says in previous letter
, he had expressed doubts about the ECI being ready for conducting 2024 elections in a manner fully compliant with the representation of the people act of 1951 (RPA51), maintaining booth-wise secrecy of voting, use of upgraded electronic voting machines (EVMs), 100% cross-verification of EVM votes w.r.t (with regard to) ballot count, based on functional voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT).
"In particular, I expressed my concern about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) loading the board of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) with its representatives, knowing well that BEL is the company that is closely involved in the design and supply of EVMs and other equipment to the election commission," Mr Sarma says.
"There have been widespread public concerns about the linking of Aadhaar with the electoral rolls, in view of reports of the proliferation of fake Aadhaar in several states, which in turn can lead to manipulation by some political parties of the electoral rolls to their advantage," the former secretary says, adding, "When I brought one such recent report from Moneylife
to the attention of the unique identification authority of India (UIDAI), the response I received was casual, unconcerned, betraying a sense of indifference and callousness on the part of that authority."
With Aadhaar becoming omnipresent in the lives of people today, with their bank accounts, permanent account number (PAN) cards, health data, electoral identity and whatnot, linked to their Aadhaar numbers and with huge amounts of bank transfers made regularly by the Union ministries directly to the bank accounts of individuals, the scope for misuse of the Aadhaar and proliferation of fake Aadhaar has steeply increased, Mr Sarma points out.
He says, "As rightly indicated by Mr Bhaskar in his article, the only authentic way to weed out fake Aadhaar is by a cross-verification with the Census figures but the government has conveniently foreclosed that option."
"Can the election commission, instead of blindly depending on Aadhaar-based identity, undertake a comprehensive mission to conduct a door-to-door verification of the electoral roll details, well before the 2024 elections? From the numerous letters I have written to the Commission over the last few months and the Commission's well-calculated silence in response, like many other concerned citizens, I cannot repose confidence in the Commission's resolve to undertake such an exercise, nor am I sure about its willingness to come clean on revamping the EVM and VVPAT systems, 100% verification of the votes with reference to the paper count and ensuring a level-playing ground among the political parties," the former secretary says.
In the absence of census data and in the absence of adequate public trust in the Commission's willingness to authenticate the electoral rolls independent of Aadhaar linking, according to Mr Sarma, the only alternative as suggested by Mr Bhaskar, seems to be that CAG should commission an independent forensic audit of the Aadhaar to ensure that fake Aadhaar are identified and weeded out.
"I once again demand that the election commission for once addresses each and every concern I have expressed in this letter and the earlier letter dated 19 April 2023, and place its detailed point-wise response in the public domain for every concerned citizen to see, discuss and debate whether the Commission is in a position to conduct the 2024 elections in a manner fully compliant with the RPA51. I would request the Commission if it is genuinely inclined to address the issue of fake Aadhaar and their likely impact on the 2024 elections," Mr Sarma says.